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Hey, Fans: Sit on It!
E.M. Swift
May 15, 2000
The high cost of attending games is fattening owners' wallets while it drives average fans from arenas, and it may be cooling America's passion for pro sports
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May 15, 2000

Hey, Fans: Sit On It!

The high cost of attending games is fattening owners' wallets while it drives average fans from arenas, and it may be cooling America's passion for pro sports

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Fan Reaction

SI commissioned the Peter Harris Research Group to conduct a scientific national survey of sports fans on issues related to attendance at major league baseball, NBA, NFL and NHL games. The 874 fans polled attended an average of 10.3 pro events or college basketball or football games in the past year and 39.5 games in the past five years. Here are the top 10 reasons, with percentages of fans citing them, that make respondents less likely to fill a seat at a sporting event today.

Total cost to attend

57%

Comfort of watching at home

41%

Players' behavior during games

41%

Traffic and parking

38%

Increase in sports on TV

35%

Lateness of games

26%

TV replay and analysis

22%

Unlikelihood of getting good seats

19%

Change in how local team is doing

14%

Change in family's interest in game

13%

Average cost for a family of four to attend an NFL game? $258.50.

Face value of two rinkside tickets to a Stanley Cup finals game in Denver? $510.

Advance purchase price for two tickets in the back of the first level at the Delta Center for the Utah Jazz's 15-game playoff package? $2,250.

Tab for four season tickets to field-level box seats at home games of the New York Mets? $18,240.

Evening spent at home with the kids, the dish and the clicker? Priceless.

America's sports teams face a small problem as they enter the brave new digital world of the 21st century: Joe Fan, that poor abused sucker who has helped make every second-string point guard, backup quarterback, lefthanded middle reliever and third-line right wing rich beyond reason, is being priced right out of his seat. Ridiculous doesn't begin to describe the escalation in ticket prices to sports events during the last decade or so. Bananas, wacko, insane...now we're getting somewhere. Sometime between the eighth baseball labor action and the third NBA lockout, between the NFL scab games and the NHL shutdown, between the publicly financed construction of Chicago's Comiskey Park and the public implosion of Seattle's Kingdome, attending sports events went from being affordable family entertainment to being a corporate perk.

Since 1991 ticket prices for the four major pro sports have increased an outrageous 80%—four times faster than the Consumer Price Index. An average NFL ticket, which went for $25.21 in '91, now goes for $45.63. Same story in the NHL, where, according to the Chicago-based business publishing and research firm Team Marketing Report, the average cost for a family of four to attend a game has risen 31.8% in the past five years, to $254-48—roughly two weeks' worth of groceries or 30% of an average household's weekly pay. Not that an average family gets to an NHL arena all that often. A marketing survey conducted by the league this season revealed the average household income of fans attending games was $81,000, which puts them in the top 15% of North Americans. Bully for them. The other 85%, which includes the hard-core, leather-lunged blue-collar characters who used to ring cowbells in the balconies of Chicago Stadium and Boston Garden, has been left out in the cold.

The They've Got Money Coming Out the Wazoo! Award, however, goes to the mythical family of four that attends a New York Knicks game on its own nickel. Or 9,105 nickels. According to Team Marketing Report, the average cost of that outing during the 1999-2000 season was a staggering $455.26 for parking, four tickets in midrange seats (an average of $86.82 each), four sodas, four hot dogs, two beers, two programs and two souvenir caps.

Even major league baseball, which prides itself on being the least expensive of the four big sports, has raised its average ticket price 92.7% since 1991, from $8.64 to $16.65. Prices have soared 11.6% this season alone, and the best seats have risen at a pace that would make a day-trader blanch. A ticket for a New York Yankees box seat has climbed 120% in the past five seasons, from $25 to $55. This year the crosstown Mets jacked up their best tickets from $30 to $37, an increase of 23%. Same story in the heartland, where the hapless Milwaukee Brewers will thank the good citizens of Wisconsin for building them a new ballpark, set to open next year, by pricing the top seats at about $50 a pop, $22 more than what the highest-priced ticket goes for now at County Stadium.

Players' salaries have risen even faster, of course, which is one reason for the runaway ticket prices. In the NHL, which derives a whopping 60% of its revenues from ticket sales, salaries have skyrocketed 380% since 1990. In the NBA, which gets about 40% of its revenues from tickets, the average salary has gone up 289%, while the average ticket price has risen 108%. Baseball's average salary has shot up 237%, more than 2� times the rate of ticket prices. Same story in football, in which the 81% rise in ticket prices was more than matched by the 164% surge in the average salary.

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